Although it seems like common sense that we will be happier if we are kind to ourselves, most of us are not. In western society, the path we think we should follow to happiness is often outside of ourselves. When we don’t accomplish the things we think we should, or fit the image of ourselves that we think we should, our choice is often to berate ourselves, scold ourselves and shame ourselves.
It is really no wonder that this is our strategy, as this is what we are taught from an early age by the adults around us. If you do and say and act the way we want, than we will reward you. If you do not do these things, than you will be punished. We have learned this from the people who love us, who themselves did not understand how harmful this approach is.
The problem with this formula is it doesn’t work. The harsher we are with ourselves, the worse we fare. We begin to engage in patterns of denial, and avoidance because it is too hard for us to reach our expectations. We begin to have trouble accepting responsibility for our mistakes, because if each time we make a mistake we pummel ourselves with self-criticism, it becomes much harder to admit that we make them. If we don’t allow ourselves to make mistakes, we never learn.
If we can’t be kind to ourselves, we look for people who make us feel like we are okay. Deep down we feel like if only someone else loves us, than maybe we are lovable. Yet seeking happiness in this way is never successful. If we convince ourselves that we are only okay when others tell us we are okay, that sets us up for a lot of pain and suffering. We can’t find happiness if we are turned against ourselves. We won’t find it in other people, in a job, in a possession or in an accomplishment.
Lack of self-compassion also leads to protectiveness. Lack of compassion and self hate are very closely related. If you feel inadequate you are more likely to be judgmental and defensive. Putting people down to make yourself feel better is a common strategy that people use when they are unhappy with themselves. Additionally, being unable to examine your own intentions, interactions, and motivations honestly is common for people who lack self compassion. You may blame yourself or blame others unfairly without being able to step back and take stock of what’s actually happening. This behavior is harmful, and will ultimately lead to more unhappiness and dissatisfaction with relationships.
Self-compassion is a willingness to allow and accept the way things are. In fact this is an important precondition to change. If there are things you want to change and improve in your life, you have to first honestly look at and accept the way things are.
Evolutionarily, we are wired to search for what is wrong. This is how our nervous system was initially designed; it was adaptive and it helped us to survive.
Now, however, because our brain is self-referential, it has turned on us. It is constantly searching and striving for ways to detect that we are not okay. Feeling that we are not okay causes us to seek false refuges. We strive to accomplish and prove that we are okay. We use alcohol, food, drugs and people to self-medicate because we experience so much pain we need to escape. We use judgment to blame ourselves and others in an attempt to feel in control. All of this results in depression and anxiety. Although our initial wiring helped us to survive it no longer does so, and we must transcend this in order to be healthy and happy.
We need to deconstruct ourselves and our ideas of what is important if we want to be happy. This begins with the idea of whether or not we are okay just the way we are. Is it possible? How would you feel if you thought you were okay just the way you are?